The first time I asked a hotel clerk about the disaster plan should there be an emergency, I almost precipitated one. Joe was simply not in the mood for one of my 'disability awareness moments'. But knowing that he was impatient to get in the room, I stayed the course anyway, reminding myself to remind him about my new resolve to check out about safety when we are staying in accessible rooms that aren't on the ground floor. Anyways, the clerk blinked at me a couple of times and said, 'Pardon?' I asked again, sweetly, 'What plans has the hotel made for guests with disabilities should their ever be a disaster or an emergency?' On second hearing the question seemed to make sense to her, 'Oh, yeah, right,' she said, 'we all gather in the parking lot behind the hotel.'
'OK,' I said, 'but I'm on the second floor, the elevators are typically down during a fire or other disaster, what do I do? Is there a gathering place on my floor for guests with disabilities.' My question went back to being incomprehensible. She tried again, 'We all gather in the parking lot behind the hotel.' This answer, was THE answer and it was supposed to work. It didn't. I said again, 'But, as you can see, I am in a wheelchair, what plans are made for those of us who can't get to the parking lot behind the hotel.' She continued bravely, 'There should be no problem, the parking lot is accessible.' I said, calmly still, 'It's not accessible from the second floor, it's only accessible from this floor and my room isn't on this floor.' 'We don't have rooms on this floor,' she said exasperated, 'you have to go to the parking lot.' She saw I was about to say something more and she gave up, 'Just a second let me get the manager.'
The manager came, and as is often the case, she was barely out of her teens. The lives of thousands of travellers rests on the shoulders of boys who are learning to shave or girls who's breasts are still in training. Anyways, the manager came and explained that the hotel had a list of all the accessible rooms and in a crisis they would come and carry me down to the main floor. Now my wheelchair weighs more than the manager and clerk combined. I wasn't reassured. 'So, in effect, in a crisis, you and the clerk would rush into a fire and carry me down the stairs?' She had the grace to say, 'It doesn't seem like much of a plan, does it?' I said, 'No, I'm not reassured.' We talked a few seconds more and she said she'd raise the issue with the company. I went to my room, put on an episode of QI on YouTube to happy Joe up and the evening continued.
A couple of nights later we are checking into a really nice, really huge hotel, where we were staying on the twentieth floor. Joe had gone to get the luggage and I asked, nicely, about the disaster plan. The clerk, a very efficient looking woman, said, 'I've never been asked that question before. I don't know the answer, may I find out and call you in your room.' I thanked her. She called and told me that I was to gather with other guests who need assistance in the east stairwell and wait for assistance. In effect, I was to '9/11 it'.
Joe and I tried to figure out what our disaster plan would be, from the twentieth floor. I figure the best chance we had was to pray hard and sleep light.